People try to live in poverty for two hours

PAT FRIDGEN
Bill Kirkpatrick, Fayetteville and formerly of Greencastle, and Ariana Heim portray young siblings buying food during a Poverty Simulation. The teddy bear was an infant, and could not be left unattended during the event.

If Franklin County residents were frustrated after a two-hour workshop recently, the point of a poverty simulation was successful.

South Central Community Actions Programs, Inc. used the session, held at King Street Church in Chambersburg, to introduce everyday folks to life just above the poverty line.

Fifty curious citizens and people who worked for social service organizations signed up to take a randomly-assigned role as a member of a low income family. They tried to get by for a month, with each week represented by a short segment of time.

An elderly single man, for instance, received $552 per month in retirement income. Ater housing and other fixed costs, he had $27 left for discretionary spending. The character of a 19-year-old single mom living with her boyfriend received $278 a month plus $150 in food stamps. Without transportation, she was stuck at home while the man went to town for travel vouchers and cash. Two children ended up in juvenile hall, one for skipping school and the other for being left home alone. By the end of the evening, some people were evicted from their homes.

The participants visited booths offering services by an employer, child care center, public school, bank, utility company, jail, or supercenter.

"We know for families, transportation is one of the biggest issues," warned Megan Shreve, executive director of SCCAP.

During the simulation, one woman presented a transportation pass for a ride, but it turned out to be fraudulent.

"Someone sold you a fake pass," said Theresa Bachman-Myers, outreach and volunteer coordinator for SCCAP. The woman had to spend $20 to get more tickets for her family.

People needing quick cash visited the pawn shop. "Depending on how persuasive they are determines the price I'll give them for their TVs, stereos and cameras," explained Heather Clark, a SCCAP employee. She typically doled out $10 to $40 for an item valued at $100. "In the two years I've been doing this simulation, no one ever buys back the stuff. They're trying to just get by."

One man filled out a loan application. He sold his car to buy transportation passes, and saw the irony in that.

"This experience is real life and very stressful," noted Shreve.

Greencastle

SCCAP did not have specific figures for Greencastle, but said it serves 12,000 individuals in Franklin County. It also covers Adams County. The organization, funded by a Community Services Block Grant, has programs offering information and help for child care, employment, finances, emergency funds, utilities, housing and food. It partners with the food pantry at Greencastle Presbyterian Church and with local child care providers.

The poverty simulation was designed to help people understand the fears and frustrations that accompany decision-making for people living in poverty, said Bachman-Myers.

SCCAP is a private, nonprofit organization created in 1965 to assist low income families and individuals help themselves. It gets clients through referrals of social service agencies or churches, and through word of mouth.